Marian Regional Medical Center in Santa Maria received a donation of distraction bags for its pediatric patients from the Be Strong You’re Loved foundation on Tuesday.
The nonprofit was founded by Juliana Rodriguez, a 17-year-old Righetti High School student, while she was recovering from a craniotomy in 2019.
Rodriguez was diagnosed with Chiari Malformation at the age of 13, a condition in which the brain tissue expands into the spinal cord. She was treated at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles.
During her second admittance at Cedars-Sinai, Rodriguez was gifted a distraction bag by her child life services coordinator to aid in the recovery process. The bag contained a journal, pen, wand, and other gifts.
“It helped me a lot,” Rodriguez said. “I was able to be distracted from just being in that environment and there were some little games or things like that in there and it distracts you from the pain.”
Post-surgery, Rodriguez assembled a board of directors consisting of close family members and mentors to help lift the non-profit off the ground with the hope of being able to help other children in similar situations.
“I honestly just picked people that I knew would support me and that care for similar things. I look up to them,” Rodriguez added.
“I was super honored when she called me to lead the board with her,” said Cynthia Nicosia, Rodriguez’s aunt. “She was right out the gate when she was in her recovery. She knew she wanted to do this.”
Through donations, Be Strong You’re Loved is able to assemble distraction bags and gift cards for child patients and their families to then be distributed to local hospitals.
“We were able to meet last year’s [goal] which really allowed us to extend our giving to two hospitals this year to both Cedars-Sinai and here to our local community which we were incredibly proud to be able to do,” Nicosia said.
This is Marian Regional Medical Center's first donation from the nonprofit organization. While Rodriguez is post-recovery, she had a very strong message for anyone in her similar situation.
“It does get easier,” she said. “It is a struggle and especially for different situations there’s different pain involved. Just be with your family and friends because they help the process a lot more.”
Click here to learn more about Be Strong You're Loved.